November 4, 2013

Crunchyroll inks simultaneous-publication manga deal


 In an interesting bit of simultaneous-publication news, the American company Crunchyroll — which hosts live streaming anime and other TV shows on its website — has announced that it will now be digitally distributing manga titles from Japanese publisher Kodansha. Titles will be available the same day they’re published in Japan (which means they’ll have been translated before first publication), and Crunchyroll is starting out with a slate of twelve, including Fairy Tail, Attack on Titan, Mysterious Girlfriend X, Space Brothers, and more.

Crunchyroll is a subscription service, so that some material is available for those with a free or limited membership, but at the cost of having to see ads, whereas higher levels of commitment mean no ads and more content. The Manga membership will cost $4.95 a month, and will allow members to read (but not download — like Spotify and Netflix, your membership only gives you access to the content, not ownership) all current and archived issues on the site.

Kodansha, Japan’s largest publisher, has long had a presence in the English-speaking market: its international arm, Kodansha International, founded in 1963, was responsible for the first English translations of Haruki Murakami’s work, among many other translations. Kodansha International closed down in 2011, but the company still operates Kodansha Comics USA, which already publishes digital editions of some of the titles that will be available through Crunchyroll. However, eight titles of the initial offering have not appeared in English before.

A report by Deb Aoki in Publishers Weekly detailed some of the manga titles on offer:

A mix of current comedy, drama, action and horror manga series, including A Town Where You Live by Kouji Seo, a slice-of-life story about a city girl who moves to the countryside; Yamada Kun and the Seven Witches by Miki Yoshikawa, a high school gender-bender comedy about a boy and girl who end up switching identities; Fort of Apocalypse by Yuu Kuraishi and Kazu Inabe, a zombie action series set in a juvenile prison; As the Gods Will by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Akeji Fujimura, a horror series set in a high school, My Wife is Wagatsuma-san by Yuu Kuraishi and Keishi Nishikida, a time-traveling romantic comedy that sounds similar to US TV series How I Met Your Mother.

Crunchyroll isn’t the first company to offer simultaneously published manga titles: the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump began simultaneously releasing new issues from the series they publish in January 2013. But Kodansha is big and has a deep backlist, so this deal opens up much desirable material. Also, a lot of manga is only available in illegal “scanlations” — scanned and translated versions done by amateurs — where the quality isn’t always great: Crunchyroll’s service seems like it may end up being a legal, professional, and cheap alternative to scanlations, which often come into being because there’s a demand from English- or other language readers for a manga title, but Japanese publishers aren’t able to find a foreign publisher willing to license the rights.

On the Fandom Post, an anime and manga site, Chris Beveridge interviewed a group of reviewers about their experience with the Crunchyroll digital publications so far, and the results were positive, with a number of the reviewers commenting that the length of manga series has kept them from trying multiple titles — Crunchyroll’s browsing capabilities in this respect are a plus.

Interestingly, though, when asked about print vs. digital, most of the reviewers expressed a continuing preference for print, while conceding the benefits of digital when it comes to storing the hundreds of volumes even a single series can run to. And some saw a possibility for mixed print and digital lives for the titles. For instance,

Kate – I hope I don’t have to live in an all digital future. I love the feeling of a book in my hands, and enjoy owning physical copies of books I love. However, I have limited shelf space, and there are plenty of series I’d be happy reading once and forgetting. I could see digital helping to get series that normally wouldn’t see print into print, as this could act to poll readers to see if there’s enough interest in a print edition. A future of disposable ad-supported digital followed by collector’s print editions would make me happy, add in a DRM-free digital edition purchase option and everyone is happy.



Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.